Remains of the Day
Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had a son named Judah, died, and stayed dead, says Simcha Jacobovici, an award-winning filmmaker. A Discovery Channel documentary on his findings, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, will be televised March 4. Jacobovici, who describes himself as an investigative journalist and a filmmaker, directed and produced the film with Titanic director James Cameron. He claims that statistical, historical, archaeological, and DNA evidence back his position.
However, scholars are dismissive of the filmmakers' claims. "This is a theory that is so deeply flawed that it deserves to be dismissed reasonably quickly," said Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary.
Scot McKnight, professor of religious studies at North Park University, says that the filmmakers' theses are based less on scholarship than on The Da Vinci Code novel. "The bigger theme I think is the fraud of Christianity. I think that's what they're trying to demonstratethat early Christians believed in something that didn't happen."
"This is really a brilliant example of archaeological sensationalism," said Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Burge notes that allegations like Jacobovici's are nothing new. "It happens again and again in the Holy Land that people win their 15 minutes of fame by discovering some new burial cave."
The "lost tomb" is nothing new, either. In 1980, a construction team in Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem, found the tomb as they started bulldozing the site. At the time, construction projects were turning up a dozen archaeological sites every month, says Jacobovici in The Jesus Family Tomb. The construction team reported the finding to authorities, and a team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority came to examine the site. Archaeologist Amos Kloner, who has called Jacobovici's theory nonsense, wrote the official report in 1980, without making any reference to Jesus of Nazareth.
Excavation of the crypt led to the discovery of 10 ossuaries, which did not contain remains. Six of them were inscribed with names, which have been transcribed as: "Yeshua bar Yosef," "Maria," "Mariamene e Mara" (translated "Mary the Master"), "Matia," "Yose," and "Yehuda bar Yeshua." No one at the time of the discovery found the names very significant, since they were all very common names in Jesus' time.
Jacobovici says he has deduced that these names refer to Jesus' mother, Mary; his supposed wife, Mary Magdalene; and his son, Judah (who, Discovery News bafflingly speculates, "could have been the 'lad' described in the Gospel of John as sleeping in Jesus' lap at the Last Supper"). Matthew is supposed to be a relative of Mary; and Joseph, one of Jesus' brothers.
Jacobovici also says that the James ossuary, now under investigation to determine whether it is a forgery, belongs with these ten ossuaries because it has the same patina. Jacobovici produced a 2002 Discovery Channel documentary on the James ossuary.
The purported DNA evidence lacks credibility, counters Witherington. "In order for them to establish a positive claim that these are Jesus' relatives, you have to have control samples [of Jesus' DNA] to compare it to, but we have no such objective control samples." In addition, the team is testing mitochondrial DNA, which, according to Witherington, does not even allow scientists to "establish XY chromosomes and genetic coding."
Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, questions Jacobovici's other claim that it is improbable that the names in the Talpiot tomb, though common, should be found together in one grave. "To say [the odds are] 600 to 1 that this could only be Jesus [Christ] is just ridiculous; it's playing with numbers."